Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken Remarks on an Enduring Vision for Central Asia

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Brookings Institute
Washington, D.C.

Highlights 

Today, there are those who look at the drawdown of our forces from Afghanistan and see through that a region of declining importance to the United States.  Nothing could be further from the truth. … The lens through which we view Central Asia may have changed, but our commitment to enduring partnerships that advance our interests and values in the region has not.

Our security is tied to a stable Central Asia, and at the same time we see a region of enormous potential, a region that could act as an economic bridge from Istanbul to Shanghai and provide opportunities for our own businesses, technologies, and innovations to take root; a region that could offer goods and energy to the booming economies of South and East Asia; and a region that could serve as a stabilizing force for Afghanistan’s transition and an indispensable partner in the fight against narco-trafficking, terrorism, and extremism.  To help unleash this dynamic potential, the United States stands committed to investing in the region’s people and its political and economic stability.

We have three important objectives for our engagement with each of the Central Asian states: strengthening partnerships to advance mutual security; forging closer economic ties; and advancing and advocating for improved governance and human rights.

Mutual Security

While each Central Asian country has its own distinctive history and will forge its own future, we know that they share a common concern for stability and regional security. … By deepening these security partnerships, we are also investing in a stable foundation for Central Asia to unlock its great economic potential.  The images of the old Silk Road – when Central Asia was truly at the crossroads of civilization – does not have to be just a memory. Past can become prologue.

Economic Ties

Today, Central Asia is not only bursting with resources, but brimming with youthful, entrepreneurial potential. … To deliver on the aspirations of this new generation, we want to help Central Asia build a solid basis for prosperity by integrating it into a global, rules-based system.

Ultimately, for Central Asia to fully reap the benefits of shared prosperity, it has some choices to make between the political and economic practices of the past that offered limited potential for long-term, diversified growth, and the possibilities of the future – the surge of innovation and energy that comes from building more open societies at home and joining a dynamic, just, and rules-based global marketplace.  These rules are not designed to assert the authority of one nation over another.  They serve to protect and benefit us all.  To give businesses the confidence they need to invest – drawing on skills of young, educated populations, and building a growing market for entrepreneurial talent.

Now, I know that destination may seem distant as we gather here today, but it promises what nothing else can: the opportunity for Central Asians themselves to enjoy in the fruits of their prosperity.

Improved Governance and Human Rights

A critical aspect of our foreign policy is advancing the democratic values that we share with people all over the world, including in Central Asia.  These values are at the very core of our engagement with the region – and essential to the lasting stability that we seek.

Across every bilateral relationship, we continue to advocate forcefully for greater respect for human rights, a stronger voice for civil society, and greater religious freedom.  Progress has been halting, but I believe we are better able to address these difficult issues because we are present and engaged with these governments and their civil society.  We know that governments that are accountable to their citizens can more effectively sustain their own security, defend their own sovereignty, and contribute to regional stability.

In the 21st century, the true wealth of a nation lies in its human resources and the potential of a country to maximize those resources – to let them be free, to let them be creative, to let them innovate.  Those are the countries that we most want to engage with.  That’s what we’re looking for as we seek to forge partnerships.

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